Barcelona’s main bullring was built in the smart Eixample district of the city with a flamboyant Neo-Mudéjar and Byzantine façade by Catalan architect Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, a disciple of Gaudí. Embellished with typical Iberian white-and-blue tiles and towers topped with onion-shaped domes, the bullring was the largest in Barcelona and could seat 20,000, plus another 5,000 standing. The site was inaugurated in 1914, and over the decades, it has featured Spain’s top toreros (bullfighters) – who were nationwide pin-ups – in corridas (bullfights) that reached their height of popularity in the 1950s. However, bullfighting eventually grew increasingly unpopular in Catalan Spain, and it was eventually banned in January 2012, to the disappointment of many local aficionados.
Both of Barcelona’s bullrings were repurposed, and while the smaller Plaza Espanya ring was transformed into a state-of-the-art shopping mall known as Las Arenas by none other than Richard Rogers, La Monumental has retained its original character and is open for tours. It also hosts big-name concerts and houses a miniscule but fascinating museum that tells the story of bullfighting in Catalonia by showcasing branding irons, the heads of revered bulls and bullfighting posters. However, the masterpieces of the museum (Museu Taurí) are the glamorous, sequined “suits of light” that belonged to famous bullfighters such as Mario Cabré, who became a film star in the 1950s, and José Tomás, who was elevated to superhero ranks when he appeared in the last-ever corrida at La Monumental in September 2011.